REGINA — COVID-19 testing and access to booster shots have made Saskatchewan's premier confident his government can limit the severity of the pandemic without introducing new public health restrictions as the province sees rising cases, but decreasing hospitalizations.
As the Omicron variant spreads across the country, Scott Moe said the province is changing how it tracks infections because the symptoms of Omicron are much milder.
He said his Saskatchewan Party government will focus on hospitalization numbers while pushing vaccines and regular testing.
"Our case counts in the last two weeks are up four times, our hospitalizations are down about 21 per cent and our ICUs are down about 55 per cent here in Saskatchewan and that's due to what people are doing now what we are asking them to do," Moe said Thursday.
"I've asked the Saskatchewan Health Authority to begin reporting how many hospitalizations are being admitted that are due to COVID and how many there are incidental cases, for example, patients who are admitted to hospital for some other reasons.
"We're confident we will be able to keep our hospitalizations at a manageable level."
The province reported 2,176 active cases Thursday, up from 1,645 the day before.
The government announced it is cutting the isolation time for those who are fully vaccinated but test positive for COVID-19 to five days from 10.
They "should be fine by day five," said Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical officer.
People who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated need to "self-isolate for 10 days from the date of test or 48 hours after your symptoms have ended, whichever is later," the province said on its website.
"Asymptomatic residents who receive a positive COVID-19 result on a rapid antigen test will no longer be recommended to receive a confirmatory PCR test," the website states.
Instead, the province said they should "assume they have COVID-19, self-isolate and inform their contacts."
Shahab said the province can prevent mass hospitalizations, even if case numbers are high, if residents follow the government's recommendations.
Shahab noted the transmission rate is high among children but said he is comfortable with them returning to school after the holidays because testing is available, vaccine intake is being promoted and Omicron is so contagious, many will get it anyway with mild symptoms.
"I think we need to be ready for a significant surge and we need to just manage that," Shahab said.
Officials said 83 per cent of eligible residents five years and older have had their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 76 per cent have had their second shot.
Health Minister Paul Merriman encouraged people to take advantage of the "over 12 million rapid tests that are available in communities right across the province" and to get vaccinated.
"We're in a very good position," Merriman said.
"(Omicron) is moving faster, (but) the health outcomes are less severe than they were with Delta. I want to remind everybody that our whole process with this was not to defeat the virus, it was to protect our health-care system. We feel this is going to be a very good measure for the time being."
Merriman said if the COVID-19 situation changes, the government has not closed the door on changing restrictions or public health measures "if our hospitalizations and our ICUs start to rise significantly."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press